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A 5.2-inch Super AMOLED display, 14nm Exynos chipset, a body made out of a glass/metal combo, IP68 certification, 16MP f/1.9 cameras front and back – it sure sounds like Samsung’s next flagship. Only it’s not the flagship we’re talking about, but the Galaxy A5 (2017) premium mid-ranger.
Of course, we are guilty of hand-picking that selection of specs to prove a point, and there are other fields in that spec sheet that would give away the A5’s lower position in the Galaxy universe. Display resolution is one (1080p), and the chipset is another (Exynos 7880). Even though it’s made on a cutting-edge 14nm fabrication process, it’s still only mainstream Cortex-A53 cores inside and not hard-hitting Mongooses or Kryos. And then the cameras lack OIS and 4K video recording, even if they both offer higher resolution than the Galaxy S7.
Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017) at a glance:
- Body: Aluminum frame, Gorilla Glass 4 display protection
- Screen: 5.2″ 1080p Super AMOLED screen (424ppi); Always On Display
- OS: Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow; Samsung Grace UX; Nougat update in the works
- Chipset: Exynos 7880, 14nm process
- Memory: 3GB of RAM; 32GB storage, dedicated microSD slot for expansion
- Camera: Primary 16MP, f/1.9, 27mm; Secondary 16MP, f/1.9
- Video: 1080p
- Connectivity: nano SIM (dual SIM version available); LTE (Cat. 6); Wi-Fi ac; Bluetooth 4.2; FM Radio; USB Type-C; 3.5mm jack
- Battery: 3,000mAh
- Misc: Fingerprint reader, IP68 certification for dust and water resistance, Samsung Pay
- Somewhat expensive – the Galaxy S6 can be had for less, the S7 is slightly pricier, but will certainly dip in a couple of months when the S8 comes out.
- Android is still Marshmallow, though an update is coming.
- No 4K video recording at a price point, where you can find plenty of phones that support it.
It’s not exactly what you call a bargain, the A5 (2017), unfortunately. Its price tag makes a pretty solid case for the Galaxy S6, and why not even the S7 when the time is right? It’s also not looking good that Samsung is putting out a new premium product with good ol’ Marshmallow, and no shiny fresh Grace UX can make up for that.
None of that means we don’t like the premise of a premium full-featured (or thereabout) smartphone positioned a notch below the flagships – quite the opposite. We’ll be looking into just how much the A5 (2017) deserves its place in the world on the following pages, starting (not unusually) with a hardware overview.
The Galaxy A5 (2017) measures 146.1 x 71.4 x 7.9 mm which is standard for a 5.2-inch phone – most other devices with the same diagonal are within a millimeter in each direction
As for weight, the A5 (2017) is on the heavy side of average. Its 157g aren’t really an issue, but the similarly sized Huawei P9, for example, tips the scales at just 144g. The brand new HTC U Play is even a notch lighter at 143g, though admittedly it is severely battery-deprived (2,500mAh).
If there’s one area where the Galaxy A5 (2017) can stand up to flagship-grade scrutiny it’s build and looks. To a non-discerning eye the A5 can easily pass for an S7 – the aluminum frame, the dual-glass sandwich, the shapes and proportions – it’s all top-shelf material.
What’s been missing on the A-series for a while now and hasn’t made an appearance on the Galaxy A5 (2017) either is a notification LED. That one seems to be a flagship-only feature as of late. The top bezel of the midranger does contain all the other usual stuff though – earpiece, proximity/ambient light sensors, and selfie camera.
More importantly, and unlike any previous non-flagship or non-rugged phone, the A-series for this year have IP68 certification for dust and water resistance.
We do tend to compare the Galaxy A5 (2017) to both the existing S7 and the projected S8 and while the S7 is so last year with its 3.5mm jack, the S8 may be one of the trendsetters to lose it. So there – the Galaxy A5 (2017) is on par with the current top model in this respect, and possibly better than the upcoming one.
The Galaxy A5 (2017)‘s wired interface is in fact more up-to-date than the current flagship S7. The Type-C USB port only made it on a Samsung phone with the Note7, but we all know how that ended. Other than a somewhat obscure C9 Pro, the A-series remain the only Samsung handsets with a Type-C port. Beat that, S7.
One odd design decision sees the loudspeaker placed on the right side of the phone, right above the power button. For ringtones that’s as good as any other position and in a way it’s better for video viewing when holding the display in landscape orientation than the prevalent bottom placement. There are no stereo speakers, but there aren’t any on Samsung flagships either. Not yet, at least.
As with a few other previous A-series models, the A5 (2017) has a couple of card slots. The one on the side accommodates one nanoSIM, while the slot on top takes a microSD card. The latter can also fit an additional nanoSIM card on dual SIM versions of the A5 (2017) and in this case the microSD slot remains available – it’s a dedicated solution and not a hybrid one and we can’t stress enough just how much we prefer it this way.
On the back, the S-series have been having all sorts of sensors, but not the A’s – it’s the bare minimum here with just the camera module and the LED flash.
Your palms will undoubtedly appreciate the curves on the back, which make the A5 a joy to handle. Some people tend to complain that glass is slippery, but we’ve had more issues in this respect with satin-finished aluminum on some phones, so it’s probably down to the individual’s skin properties. What’s not debatable is that on glass backs smudges reign.
The Galaxy A5 (2017) like all self-respecting Galaxies packs a Super AMOLED display. The A5 in particular is smack in the middle between the 4.7-inch A3 (2017) and the 5.7-inch A7 (2017) in terms of diagonal, and its 5.2-inch panel has FullHD resolution. That amounts to a 424ppi density but the Diamond Pixel arrangement makes that less sharp than a competing LCD with equal number of subpixels for each color. It’s still plenty sharp though.
The display can give you that AMOLED punch that’s become synonymous with the tech, at the expense of color accuracy. In Adaptive mode average DeltaE is 5.3 with Red waaay off at 11.2, but also quite inaccurate whites. Switch to basic mode, however, and you’re treated to an excellently calibrated display with an average DeltaE of just 2.0 and a maximum of 3.2. Cinema and Photo modes are somewhere in between – whatever floats your boat.
Maximum brightness is excellent, particularly if you engage the Auto mode, in which case the display gets a healthy boost in bright conditions. That said, last year’s model could pump out more nits in Auto mode. Even so, the A5 (2017)‘s numbers are right up there with the S7 flagship – excellent. Contrast is infinite, it’s Super AMOLED’s treat for you. With a minimum brightness of just 1.8 nits night-time scrolling sessions won’t strain your eyes either.
|Display test||100% brightness|
|Black, cd/m2||White, cd/m2||Contrast ratio|
|Samsung Galaxy A5 (2016)||0||421||∞|
|Samsung Galaxy A5 (2016) max auto||0||601||∞|
|Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017)||0||413||∞|
|Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017) max auto||0||559||∞|
|Samsung Galaxy A3 (2017)||0||408||∞|
|Samsung Galaxy A3 (2017) max auto||0||518||∞|
|Samsung Galaxy S7||0||391||∞|
|Samsung Galaxy S7 max auto||0||563||∞|
|Samsung Galaxy S7 edge||0||392||∞|
|Samsung Galaxy S7 edge max auto||0||610||∞|
|Samsung Galaxy S6||0||363||∞|
|Samsung Galaxy S6 max auto||0||619||∞|
|Huawei Honor 8||0.34||374||1101|
|Huawei Honor 8 (Max auto)||0.34||395||1161|
As for sunlight legibility, the AMOLED A5 for 2017 is on par with last year’s model, and slightly better than the A3 (2017), but none of them is a match for this or last year’s flagships. In fact, the A5 (2017) sunlight contrast ratio is virtually identical to the budget J7 (2016) – sounds great from that phone’s perspective, not as flattering from the A5’s. That said, only top-of-the-line LCD-equipped phones can post such results (the likes of the iPhone 7 and Xperia XZ), and it’s not them that the A5 is facing, pricey as it may be.
The Galaxy A5 (2017) is well-stocked on connectivity options. Samsung specifies Cat.6 LTE (300Mbps downlink, 50Mbps uplink), with a disclaimer that it may vary by region and carrier, and since the Exynos 7880 itself supports Cat.7 you may want to check locally if the 100Mbps DL speed is of such crucial importance to you (you know who you are).
There are single SIM and dual SIM versions, each of them with two card slots. In each case there’s a dedicated microSD slot as well – on single SIM models (such as the one we had) there’s no cutout for the second SIM in the top slot (presumably, no contacts and hardware, maybe?).
There is also dual-band Wi-Fi a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth v4.2 (but no detail on aptX for high-quality audio), NFC and MST (for Samsung Pay, where available), and an FM radio receiver. There is no IR transmitter, though.
A Type-C port is in charge of charging, but only adheres to USB 2.0 spec, so you’re limited to a ‘measly’ 480Mbps theoretical maximum transfer speeds. USB OTG is supported for attaching peripherals, but there’s no MHL support for wired video output. Thankfully, there’s a 3.5mm headphone jack.
Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017) battery life
The Galaxy A5 (2017) is powered by a 3,000mAh battery – oh, look, it’s the same capacity as the Galaxy S7. And this one has fewer pixels to render, plus a chipset that should be more frugal than the thirsty flagship number-crunchers.
Well, indeed it is. The Galaxy A5 (2017) only fell short of the S7’s time in the voice call test, and just by an hour and a quarter. At close to 22h its result is still perfectly acceptable.
It gets better in the screen-on disciplines. It takes 14 and a half hours of our Wi-Fi web browsing test to deplete the A5’s battery – a remarkable feat, even if the smaller A3 (2017) does outlast it by an hour. The S7, on the other hand, can’t even make it to 10h.
In video playback the A5 crosses the 16-hour mark before calling it quits – another superb performance. The flagship is closer here, but still falls short by an hour and a half.
As for standby, we’ve tested the phone both with the Always On Display feature engaged and then turned off. While it does take a massive toll on standby time (and consequently on the overall endurance rating), you should bear in mind that our testing can’t account for the phone turning off the display completely when it’s in a pocket, for example. So, presumably, actual real-world standby with the AOD on should be much better.
The overall endurance rating of 95h is an excellent result and is a testament to the inherent benefits of having a 14nm chipset on board – be it an Exynos or a Snapdragon.
Remember the Note7? The Galaxy flagship phablet (that wasn’t meant to be) introduced a redesigned Samsung user interface called Grace UX. The Note7 being absent, the 2017 A-series are the only phones to come with the updated Android overlay out of the box, but it is also being seeded as we speak with the Nougat update for the S7 and S7 edge. Mind you, in the A5 (2017)‘s case it’s on top of Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow, though a bump to Android 7 is in the works.
This generation of A-series is the first to feature Always On Display (AOD). Three main views are available – Clock, Calendar and Image, with some customization available. Notifications from third-party apps show up (something that didn’t work when the S7 launched, but was added later).
The Always On Display dims when ambient light is low and will shut off when the Galaxy A5 is in your pocket. This saves energy, but you can be more explicit about it and put AOD on a schedule (or it may just be that you don’t like the extra light while you sleep).
The lockscreen can be secured with the fingerprint reader. It’s not the fastest we’ve seen, but it’s no slower than the readers that flagship Samsungs use.
The fingerprint reader can do more than that. Web sign-in remembers the passwords you use for sites and can automatically fill them in when you touch the fingerprint reader. You can also secure your Samsung account (more on that in a bit).
The Homescreen has the Briefing pane on the left (which you can disable) and supports themes and icon packs. More interestingly, it supports sort of a 3D Touch feature, not unlike the one found on the Google Pixel phones – you tap and hold on an app and a contextual menu appears. However, it offers just basic app handling actions and is not tied to the actual functionality of app.
The notification area should be quite familiar as well. A line of quick toggles is available above the notifications. Pulling the shade further down reveals all toggles, a brightness slider and a handy search field (Google prefers to put the search field on the homescreen instead).
We like the idea of the Block notifications button, it allows you to quickly mute notifications from pushy apps (games are often guilty of crying for attention when you haven’t played them in a while). Still, we don’t like the aesthetics of it.
The app switcher is the usual rolodex, but unlike the A3 here it offers split-screen multitasking (standard on Nougat, but this is Samsung’s implementation in Marshmallow). The apps that can go in multi-window have an icon next to the X, and that’s one way of doing it – the other is to hold the task switcher capacitive key.
The App drawer has a search field that looks through the apps you have installed, but also suggests apps from Galaxy Apps (you can search the Play Store if you prefer).
Being a somewhat larger phone than the A3, the A5 also gets a one-handed operation mode. It’s part of the Advanced features menu where you can also enable other actions like double press on the Home button to launch the camera and screenshot capture with a palm swipe.
Secure folder creates a separate zone so sensitive files (photos, documents, etc.) and apps can be locked away from prying eyes. Once you enter the Secure folder, taking a photo with the camera or snapping a screenshot places the file in the Secure folder. To access those from the regular gallery, you’ll first have to move them.
The reason you want to secure your Samsung account with your fingerprint is that you get 15GB of cloud storage for free. Everything from contacts to photos can be synced and you get to choose which files are synced over LTE and which are left for when Wi-Fi is available (contacts, calendar and notes don’t use much data, but photos do).
The Galaxy A5 (2017)‘s primary camera is based on a 16MP sensor that sits behind a 27mm-equiv. lens with an f/1.9 aperture. It’s lost the optical stabilization, unfortunately – last year’s model had that. Autofocus is also contrast-detect only – or at least no phase detection is being advertised. There is a single-LED flash, but that’s been Samsung’s treatments of its flagships, so why should the A-series be any better.
The camera interface has not received substantial changes. Grace UX has brought only minor refinements like swipe gestures.
As usual for Samsung smartphones, you can launch the camera with a quick double press on the Home key. The viewfinder greets you with only a flash mode toggle and a shortcut to settings.
From here you can swipe down to switch between the front and rear cameras, which is much appreciated even if not very original (LG says hi!). Swiping to the left gives you a panel with color filters, while in the other pane you get access to the shooting modes.
That’s where HDR mode resides – there is no Auto HDR like on flagships and the HDR mode is a swipe and a tap away, instead of just a tap. A Pro mode is present too, though that’s clearly a huge overstatement – you get control over exposure compensation, ISO and white balance presents, plus a metering mode selector, but no manual focus and no manual shutter speed. We gather the ‘pro’ could pass for ‘program’, but not ‘professional’, really.
Image quality is quite good, with low noise and minimal signs of noise reduction. Colors are pleasingly vivid too, without being over the top – in this weather it’s mostly the iPhone graffiti in the second image that can testify to that, but it’s enough (also the Photo compare tool down below). Dynamic range is good, though in extreme cases like the 4th and 5th sample you’re bound to end up with blown highlights.
HDR needs to be engaged manually, there’s no Auto and certainly no live preview like on the flagships. In high-contrast scenarios you might be wise to take a shot in normal and HDR mode, just in case. It does what it promises without much drama – shadows get a modest boost, and some detail in the highlights is salvaged, adding up to a very natural-looking image. Some might prefer a little less subtlety here.
We’ve seen better panoramas than the ones coming out of the Galaxy A5 (2017), but then again, we’ve seen better weather too, though certainly not lately. Anyway, the A5’s panoramas are about 1,800px tall, detail is about average, and stitching is very good, of course provided there are no moving objects.
The selfie camera on the Galaxy A5 (2017) is another 16MP f/1.9 unit, though naturally not of the same caliber as the rear one with the same numbers. For one, the front-facer lacks autofocus, and you’d think that’s a non-issue for a cam used almost exclusively at arm’s length. It would have been, had the focus distance been tuned to arm’s length shooting, and that’s not the case.
Which is sad, because at the proper distance the results are superb, only that means just your face is in the frame, and presumes some serious interest in your pores. At arm’s length everything’s a blur.
The evenly matched pixel count prompted us to make a comparison between the front and rear cameras, and… well… makes you wonder just how crucial composition needs to be for it to make such a trade-off in quality worth it.
The Galaxy A5 (2017) captures video up to 1080p/30fps, so no 4K recording out of this one. We’ve sort of grown used to expecting a phone in this price range to be able to do it – damn you, OnePlus 3.
The A5’s videos are encoded with a 17Mbps bitrate, the usual number, while audio gets a generous 256Kbps, stereo.
The FullHD video output is good, with nice levels of detail and low noise. Colors are rendered quite well too, though once again you’re better off looking at the Video compare tool to get a better idea. Audio, by the way, is surprisingly clear, and it can’t be down to just the bitrate.
One thing is clear from this review – Samsung has got the alphabet wrong. A has never been as close to S as it is with the A (2017) series. The Galaxy A5 (2017) carries more than a passing resemblance to the reigning Galaxy S7 flagship – let’s just say that if the S7 were to stumble into the A5, they’d take a selfie together.
It’s hard to split the two for looks and build quality, and that includes the IP68 certification. Only now making it outside of a select group of flagship or rugged Samsungs, the dust and water proofing is shared across the entire ‘A’ lineup this year. Same for the Home button with a fingerprint reader, complete with Samsung Pay capabilities, but that’s old news – it was already available on last year’s As.
Another thing to trickle down into the upper midrange is the cutting-edge internals. The 14nm chipset at the heart of the A5 (2017) may not outperform the top-end silicon of the day, but its efficiency is immediately evident – the battery life of the A5 is just marvelous.
The 5.2-inch Super AMOLED display is equally great – gone are the days of dim AMOLEDs with colors all over the place. This one is bright, it can be accurate if you want it to be, and it is well visible in the sun. Flagships retain the QHD resolution as a trump card, but the A5 is perfectly okay with its FullHD.
16MP cameras front and back – we can see smiles lighting up the faces of Samsung’s marketing team. The front cam can be super-detailed, only you need to keep the phone a foot away from your face, and that barely fits our grown-up mugs. We don’t know about you, but that’s not how we like our selfies. The rear camera is a lot more balanced and a capable overall performer. Its images are detailed and exhibit mature detail rendering, pleasing colors, and dynamic range is quite wide.
Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017) key test findings
- Build quality and materials are flagship-grade (IP68 rating, too), but the glass back is inevitably prone to fingerprints.
- The high-quality Super AMOLED display has excellent maximum brightness and infinite contrast and can put out punchy or spot-on colors depending on your preference. Sunlight legibility is not quite up there with the best, but it’s still better than any LCD.
- Battery life is superb – the phone’s endurance rating is 95h, and it posted excellent numbers in all our individual tests.
- Grace UX or TouchWiz, Samsung’s interface is functional and feature-rich, now also sleeker. It’s still based on Android Marshmallow, which is less than ideal in 2017.
- The Exynos 7880 performs great if you take into account its efficiency. In absolute terms, it’s an average midrange SoC that’s not greatly suited to the most demanding tasks. Then again, Game launcher could help you alleviate that by lowering the resolution at which games are rendered so you get all the special effects.
- The loudspeaker posts a Good rating for loudness, it’s nice and clear at maximum volume too.
- Image quality from the main camera is good – there’s sufficient detail, colors are nicely saturated, and dynamic range is pretty wide.
- 1080p video quality is very good, so is the audio that accompanies it.
- The 16MP selfie camera produces spectacular results, but its focus is fixed way too close, so you’re forced to choose between narrow coverage or images that are simply not in focus.
The Galaxy A5 (2017) may look like the (still) current flagship S7, but it is the S6 that it will give it the hardest time. The previous-gen top model boasts a higher-grade camera with 4K video recording and OIS, a higher-res display and a superior chipset. We’d even cautiously suggest that the much more versatile 5MP selfie shooter of the S6 wins over the 16MP one of the A5. The A5 (2017) fights back with its IP68 rating (the S6 carries none), a microSD slot, a FM radio and longer battery life, plus a Type-C port if that’s a decider for you.
Oh, we almost forgot – the S6 is one of the best choices if you want to take advantage of Samsung’s Gear VR platform. The A5 (2017) stays quietly in the corner when the big boys talk VR.
Then there are the other As from this year. Maybe you’re eyeing the A3 (2017) for its pocketability, just beware that it’s got a lower-res (and lower pixel density) display, a slower chipset, less RAM and storage and lower-res cameras. It does keep a lot of the important stuff like the microSD slot (though hybrid on the dual-SIM version), IP68 rating, and superb display and battery life. It’s also cheaper, duh.
Or, you could go one up and pick the 5.7-inch Galaxy A7 (2017) if that’s available near you. Much fewer trade-offs here – the hardware is almost identical, only you’d be paying a little more for a larger diagonal and more battery (so possibly better battery life). The one caveat – Samsung won’t be selling the A7 in Europe – a decision which is beyond us.
There’s yet another option that needs to be mentioned, and it’s none other than the Galaxy S7. Of course, it’s considerably more expensive right now, but it’s due for replacement in three months, so if you could wait, the S7 will certainly be a much better deal then. The A5 (2017) has nothing on the flagship – all the advantages over the S6 vanish (alright, there’s the FM radio), and the S7 is hands-down the better phone altogether.
The Xperia X Performance goes for Galaxy A5 (2017) money in most markets. It’s a model that’s close to being a year old if you count from the announcement or half that if you consider the actual launch.
The X Performance is among a select few devices to offer an IP68 rating for dust and water protection, so the A5 has found its match on this front. Not regarding battery life, though – the Sony is nowhere near. It does boast a Snapdragon 820 chipset, which it chooses not to use for UHD video, but its advantages for mobile gaming remain – it’s much better suited to the task than the A5’s Exynos 7880.
Huawei has a couple of phones to compete with the A5 (2017) for your affection. Another flagship due for replacement, the P9 is a bit pricier but has a lovely dual 12MP camera (color+monochrome) on its back and a more powerful chipset (that still doesn’t support 4K video recording, mind you). The A5 is dust and water resistant, though, and makes much better use of its 3,000mAh battery than the P9.
Going for the Huawei nova instead, you’d save a few notes, but still get a premium midranger – this one made of metal. Unlike the P9, the nova has a single rear camera (but then so does the A5), only it can record 4K video. Battery life isn’t half bad, but it’s no match for the marathon runner that the A5 is and the Samsung handset’s display is superior in all respects. Did we mention the A5’s IP68 rating? Well, now we have.
Priced identically to the Galaxy A5 (2017), the OnePlus 3T deserves a spot here. Sure, you can’t find it in a store, and claiming a warranty might be a minor pain in the…hassle, but it’s hard to beat it in bang-for-buck ratio. Packing one of the most powerful chipsets available, the 3T also comes with more RAM and storage. The latest from OnePlus packs 2x16MP cameras too, and both are arguably slightly better than the A5’s, plus the main one can capture 2160p video.
The A5 has its strengths – the 32GB of memory may look modest next to OnePlus’ 64GB or 128GB (has anyone actually gotten one of those), but a 256GB microSD card can easily dwarf that, as the 3T offers no option for expansion. Perhaps you’re tired of reading about the A5’s water-resistance and excellent battery life, but that’s only because no other phone manages to match it on both of those counts, most not even on one. The OnePlus 3T certainly can’t.
Going through the numbers that define the Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017) it’s all too easy to focus on the negative stuff. No 2160p video recording. £400/€430. Android 6.0.1. Even that name is a bit too much – A5 (2017).
Those numbers can easily be countered with a few others that ring much more nicely, but let’s not get so hung up on the digits. The facts are that the Galaxy A5 (2017) is beautifully-built; it will live through a downpour; it packs a screen that’s only bested by flagships, and has battery life to spare. Of course, it’s not ideal, and it’s not cheap, but you’re also unlikely to find a better match for the description in the previous sentence. Well, not unless you dig even deeper into your pocket.